Music could have been one of Jammu and Kashmir’s best export. Unfortunate circumstances led to this rich tradition of the state been ravaged and almost wiped out. That music could have been a voice of dissent, was not even given a thought. The torchbearers were present but far too few. These few somehow managed to keep music and its soul alive in this scenic state. Now with changing times, a younger generation has stepped forward and is actively pursuing music. This lot aims to broaden the horizon of this land beyond the usual stories we read or hear about. They blend their culture with western sounds to form a unique composition. In this new series, Music from the Valley, Music Plus speaks to some of the musicians from the northern most state of India.
The first artiste in this new series is someone who idolised KT Tunstall while growing up. She was inspired by the works of artistes like Aretha Franklin, India Arie, Janis Joplin, Tracy Chapman, John Mayer, Led Zepplin. She is the versatile, Pragnya Wakhlu.
Pragnya learnt Hindustani classical music while she growing up. During her college days she formed Pune’s first all-girl band.
“I was always fond of music as a kid. Singing gave me peace and it was something I loved doing but at that age I didn’t really think of it as a career option,” said Pragnya.
It was on her stint abroad that she first got to perform her original music in front of an audience that was appreciative of the originals and gave her a standing ovation. This gave her the encouragement to quit her lucrative I.T. job and take up music as a serious career option. She started training in Western vocals under several teachers and began writing and recording her own music.
Pragnya’s music is cross-genre. She incorporates all the elements she grew up with, musically. A song with English vocals with a sarod solo or a pop song with an ‘Aalap’ in it. She vividly uses the Kashmiri language and folk instruments in her songs.
“When I start composing I lay out a melody that comes to me intuitively. I further build on this when I jam with the band. I’ve found that jamming with a diverse set of musicians also helps me shape the sound of my songs,” explained Pragnya.
Her last release, Kahwa Speaks, has a lot of santoor, flute and the sarod fused with western music while retaining the Kashmiri taste but only when it is needed. She ensures that the traditional instruments are used sparingly and not forced into a song just to make the song “sound Kashmiri”. This has been a hallmark of her music.
“One needs to keep reinventing ways of looking at music, but at the heart of it is “What are you trying to say that can connect with your audience”. I think shaping the sound of the song also has to a lot to do with how different instruments make you feel.If you really listen with awareness music can speak to you at deeper levels,” opined Pragnya.
Belonging to the upcoming generation of musicians from Kashmir, Pragnya like them is all open for collaborations and fusion. This lot of musicians are reinventing what Kashmiri music is supposed to “Sound” like. They are still retaining the traditional folk music and its soul.
“Musicians today are experimenting a lot more with arrangements and exploring the fusion of non-Kashmiri instruments with Kashmiri folk music. I think it creates an interesting soundscape to play with and diversifies things for the listeners as well,” said Pragnya.
Though Kashmiri, as a language is not widely spoken, the new wave of music from the state hits the nail on the ‘Music has no language’ saying right on its head. Lack of knowledge about the language can be a boon in some cases. The audience is encouraged to listen more deeply to what they are hearing in the tone, in the emotion, in the spirit of the music.
“My songs are multi-lingual using Kashmiri, English, Hindi and Tibetan languages. I explain a little to the audience about what the song is about before I begin. People connect to the emotion behind the music and the delivery of the artist,” said Pragnya.
The language barrier, naturally disappears while performing back home (in Kashmir). One barrier less does not mean it is a smooth journey for artistes willing to perform in the valley. One has to be a little sensitive to the situation in Kashmir while performing there. Performances have to be kept low key or cancelled depending on the situation.
“I love playing in Kashmir, every performance is a different experience. It is a bit of a rarity there seeing a girl sing and play the guitar so I think I do get a bit of attention of both kinds. I hope I can see a lot of more Kashmiri women take up music as a career option” smiles Pragnya, adding, “Kashmir operates more on personal relationships with people rather than professional. The culture is that way. It is a tight knit network and that’s a good thing.”
Currently the professional standards, in the valley, are not upto the industry mark. While there is no dearth of talent, the lack of opportunities coupled with lack of regular live performances, are the key reasons for it.
Sharing her thoughts about the situation, the former IT professional stated, “There is no dearth of talent in Kashmir. I feel that Kashmiri musicians, sound engineers and event people need to work and perform outside the state, gain experience and then come back and work in Kashmir. They need more exposure as to how things operate in other parts of India and the world. People that choose to work in Kashmir need to gain experience from an outside perspective. That’s how professional standards will rise and change will happen for the better to the whole music scene.”
Pragnya plans to release an EP of love songs she has written sometime later this year. Knowing her, this EP will surely be mushy. Another talk show about Kashmiri music on Doordarshan Kashmir is in the pipeline.
“My main focus for this year is to get the audio-visual Kahwa Speaks tour I have in mind on the road with the ensemble.”, Pragnya signs off.